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Salt Traders

This is a group of salt traders from Syaandaa, Humla. They set up camp near the Karnali River, two days north of their village. They are on their way back from Yari near the Tibetan border.

“We never stay home”, they say. “We keep moving from one place to another”. They undertake two or three journeys per year. Over the winter they stay with their sheep and goats in Achham district, south of Humla.

Sheep and goat caravans trading Tibetan salt for Nepali grain while moving from pasture to pasture up and down have a long history in this part of Nepal. The business was good until the 1970s. Then it became less and less profitable because of competition from iodised Indian salt, which was heaviliy subsidized and promoted by the government in an effort to eradicate iodine deficiencies. Furthermore, with the introduction of community forestry in the 1990s, access to the caravan’s traditional winter grazing grounds in the jungles further south became more and more restricted.

Today, only few sheep and goat caravans remain. The majority of goods from Tibet is now transported by mules and dzo (yak hybrids). And the main business for most traders is no longer salt and grain, but medicinal herbs, soap, flour, and cheap Chinese liquor.

The men from Syaandaa are not in a hurry. The sheep and goats enjoy the meadow next to the river. The bags in which the animals carry their goods are neatly stacked to protect the campfire from the wind. My friend happens to know the son of one of the traders. They once shared a dorm room during high school in Kathmandu. We stay for a chat and a cup of tea.

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